The $71 Million Car Crash

For the second night in a row, a contemporary art piece sold for more than $70 million at auction.

Andy Warhol's painting "Green Car Crash," which graphically shows a car accident that includes the car's driver hanging impaled from a nearby street post, sold for $71.72 million Wednesday night to an anonymous buyer.

The work was sold at Christie's in New York as part of an auction of postwar and contemporary art that took in a total of nearly $385 million, making it the second-most lucrative art auction ever held, according to the auction house.

"It was one of the most remarkable sales I've ever seen," Christie's honorary chairman Christopher Burge, who also served as auctioneer, told Reuters. "The market wasn't just hungry, it was ravenous."

Only four of 78 works on offer failed to sell.

Christie's had estimated that the Warhol would sell for $25 million to $35 million.

The night before at Sotheby's, an anonymous buyer spent $72.84 million for Mark Rothko's "White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)," shattering all records for contemporary art auction sales.

Rothko's painting was expected to sell for $40 million, but when the bidding finished Tuesday night, a buyer on the other end of the telephone had purchased the work for nearly double that amount.

Several other works sold Wednesday also set records for their artists, Christie's said. They included a Jasper Johns canvas "Figure 4," which sold for $17.4 million; an Arshile Gorky painting "Khorkom," which went for $4.2 million; and a Cindy Sherman photograph, "Untitled No. 92," which was bought for about $2.1 million.

It should be noted that these records are for auction sales. A Jackson Pollack painting entitled "No. 5" 1948 sold for $140 million in November 2006, but that was a private sale.

A Banner Night for Warhol

Warhol stole the show at Christie's.

His 1962 painting of Marilyn Monroe, known as "Lemon Marilyn" for its color, was expected to fetch $18 million but sold for $28 million. A similar work called "Orange Marilyn" sold for $16.5 million in November.

The previous auction record for a Warhol work was $17.4 million, which was set when Christie's sold Warhol's iconic image of Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong for $17.4 million.

But the real showstopper was "Green Car Crash," part of a series of Warhol works that drew on photographs of fatal accidents. Silkscreened over a green background, the painting uses a news photograph of a grisly crash in Seattle. It had been in a private collection for decades, the auction house said.

Sandy Heller, who advises collectors on purchases, said that while it "is a great piece," it is also "a very tough image" that some might find hard to live with.

"It's hard to put an image of impaled figure in a burning car in a home where you have little kids," Heller said.

A Great Return for Rockefeller

Tuesday night was a great night for Sotheby's where more than $254.8 million was paid for artwork.

Besides Rothko's record-breaking sale, the auction house also sold Francis Bacon's "Study From Innocent X" for $52.68 million. The 1962 work had been estimated to sell for $30 million.

The Rothko painting has been owned by David Rockefeller since 1960 when Dorothy Miller, the first chief curator of the Museum of Modern Art, suggested he buy it, according to Sotheby's.

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